And it’s not because I agree with everything that comes out of the mouth of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his almost daily morning appearances on CNN. Some of it I don’t fully get, because it’s still too early in the day.
I thought I had always more or less been against reagents, for example. I had a generally negative attitude toward all reagents. Then I realized, oh my God, no, that’s from my college days, and those were regents.
But I sit and listen to Gov. Cuomo talking on and on about reagents, where they come from, why they are in short supply. I still don’t really know what in the hell a reagent is, but hearing Andrew Cuomo talk about them is very calming, kind of a Zen thing.
When he talks, I feel as if a long-lost dearly beloved cousin who I thought was dead is emerging from the smoke and din of battle. He’s dear Cousin Common Sense. We were all told we had lost him. I feel weepy.
“They said you were missing in action. We thought … we thought …”
He stops me. “I know,” he tells me softly. “I know. It’s OK. I’m here with you now.”
From a journalist’s point of view, Cuomo is not a good story. Common sense is boring. This is a guy who talks for half an hour about reagents. To a good story, chemistry is poison. I had a publisher once say, “I don’t ever want to see the term ‘parts per million’ in one of my newspapers.”
I got it. He was right. Imagine the problem in terms of headlines: “New York Governor Calls on Federal Government to Assist with Logistical Challenges in Reagent Supply Line.”
A headline like that is a double dose of Ambien. If you’re going to have headlines like that, just don’t even bother publishing that day.
We need headlines like this: “Trump calls virus ‘invisible enemy,’ vows to suspend all immigration.” A headline like that is ripped from the poster for a crazy science-fiction doomsday movie. It’s totally wild and off the charts with its own duh-duh duh-duh doomsday music written into it.
It speaks in the fake-hushed baritone doomsday voice: “In Washington tonight, the president of the United States is totally off the rails again, tearing up the rug with a lot of wild and crazy shit. He could be right. He could be wrong. It doesn’t even matter. He’s the president of the United States, and he’s a big, crazy baby.”
That stuff is great for the news business. We would never even have dared to invent such a story. Ten years ago, if the top gurus in the business had sat down to ponder the kind of story they needed to keep the doors open and stave off extinction, nobody would have said, “We need a president of the United States who’s a big, crazy baby and does wild shit that scares the whole world.” Even though, well, yeah, obviously, that would work.
I would like to say that nobody in our business would have hoped for such a thing because to do so would have been so egregiously irresponsible. But on a smaller scale, I have seen editors pretty damned effusive about the possibility of tornadoes.
Let’s just put it this way. Trump was not invented. Like Cuomo, he emerged on his own, naturally and at the right moment. People blame Trump for the terrible divisiveness of the times, but that gives him way too much credit. He feasts on division, but he didn’t invent it. We divided ourselves and in so doing made Trump inevitable.
So here is where I think I stand personally at the moment and why I want to sit for an hour in the morning with a cold cup of coffee in my shaky hand, half-listening, half-numbed out while Andrew Cuomo drones on and on about the board of reagents (I hate those guys). I just need it. I need a break. I need some downtime.
Maybe in his own moment, Trump was just what the country needed. I can’t remember. Were we bored? Maybe the whole nation was one huge lecture hall full of freshman political science 101 students sitting there thinking, “I want to run out of here right now, rip my clothes off and go totally nuts.”
As I say, Trump has been great for us in print journalism in some ways. Maybe not so much right here at my own newspaper, because we’re too dignified, but the Trump era has been a lifeline for The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, heck, The Dallas Morning News — all of the major players in nonprofit journalism. They would all be 6 feet under now were it not for the orange tornado.
Every time I turn it on, the TV news is bleating at me: “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!”
We have been living in the jitter joint now for going on four years. But instead of drying us out, it's making us more jittery.
That’s why I do Cuomo in the morning. I have no idea what a reagent is. I don’t care. I refuse to Google it. It doesn’t matter. Cuomo says we’re not all going to die. We just need more reagents. That’s what I want to hear. I think I’ve been too hard on reagents in the past. I want to give them a shot. I also want to drink my coffee and be calm for half an hour before I head into the rest of the day.
I would like to be a little more bored. Not all the time. I don’t want the big print media to go out of the nonprofit business entirely. I love newspapers. I want them to stick around. But I need some downtime.
A former colleague who is no longer with us — a person who, like many of our ilk back then, struggled mightily with drink — always described the place where one was sent to dry out as the jitter joint. I feel as if we all have been living in the jitter joint now for going on four years. But instead of drying us out, the jitter joint is just making us more jittery.
There is all this talk of Cuomo stepping past Joe Biden and running for president in the fall. That’s all totally over my head. Biden, Cuomo, they both offer the same thing, as far as I’m concerned: straight down the main channel, engines at half-speed, low wake, steady as she goes. I would just love that.
You can feel the other energy, the pent-up animus on both sides of the great divide, the people who want to leap out of an election victory and immediately start chopping off heads. I’m afraid that’s human nature after this much animosity. But if the rest of us take stock of where we are right now, locked up in the jitter joint afraid to turn on CNN, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see where things will go if the crazies on either side take over.
I’m not here to talk about elections anyway. That’s outside my wheelhouse. I’m just telling you how I do my days now. I start with Cuomo in the morning. I get rid of the jitters. I’m ready for the day.
First thing after Cuomo, I find out that the federal government has unlimited trillions of dollars in a barn somewhere that it can give away whenever it feels like it. This challenges all of my most basic assumptions about work, money and the value of everything. Plus, I wish somebody had told me earlier. The blood pressure starts to rise.
The day progresses. A neighbor texts me angrily to tell me that a woman with no mask and no gloves is walking a pig through the neighborhood off the leash, and the neighbor blames me because I’m a liberal. Long story. Could be true. I feel some jitters.
I find out that gasoline could have been free all this time and that the only thing that ever gave it any value was people not producing it. CNN suggests that at a certain point, the gas station may start paying me to fill my tank. I’m still so screwed up about the free trillions, I can’t afford to even think about the damn gasoline.
Every time I sneeze, I think I’m going to die.
The governor of Georgia is going to let tattoo artists go back to work.
But I’m OK. I can handle all this stuff, because all I have to do is make it through the day. I try to get some sleep. I dream about the pig. It’s in the barn with the regents playing poker with the trillions of dollars.
But that’s all OK, because tomorrow morning I’m going to sit down with a cup of coffee and Andrew Cuomo, and we’re going to have a long heart to heart about some stuff. Don’t care what. I may not even listen. Cuomo in the morning. It just helps.